Updated: Dec 13, 2018
It’s been another prolific year in R&B and Hip-Hop music. In a landscape that changes every day, artist are still looking for new ways to make an impact. This year has seen an overwhelming amount of music be released and the streaming era has made it even more difficult to have the lasting impact that once existed. Although the processing time for music is at an all time low, it never changes the ability for a great song to stand out. As easy as it is to bypass entire projects, a great song can still stand as a beacon. It still allows an artist, whether a veteran or a new one, to gain the necessary traction needed to maintain relevance. Below are the Top 50 Hip-Hop & R&B songs that we've enjoyed at Check the Vibes.
Couple of things to consider as you’re going through this list. This consisted solely of songs that were released solely up to November 16th, 2018. Anything released after falls into the fourth quarter which will likely have the most impact next year. We did not consider any music that we did not listen to. There were an endless number of noteworthy releases in 2018, it's impossible to listen to and completely digest them all. Most importantly, this list is not based on any formula. These are simply the songs that we enjoyed the most, so there are not any criteria measured other than how much it meant to us! So, without further delay, here is the Top 50 Hip Hop and R&B songs of 2018.
50. Bruno Mali Kidd: Scarface
Album: M.A.D.E. 2
Label: 977950 Records DK
Miami got next, maybe even got now. Bruno Mali Kidd is one of the rappers at the forefront. On the heels of his M.A.D.E. release, he followed that up with the sequel. Scarface smacks you across the face immediately. Miami isn't appreciated enough for the quality of street rappers who can really rap. Scarface cuts to the point. Hard beat, dope lyrics, simple chorus that’s easy to bounce to. “I’m from where they gun butt you and knock a few braces off, I’m from where if your money long you knock a few cases off, only home-run you get if you knock a few bases off, ” Bruno Mali snarls. He’s every bit as convincing and serious as the menacing beat suggest.
49. Lil Wayne: Don’t Cry (feat. XXXTentacion)
Producer(s): Z3N & Ben Billions
Album: Tha Carter V
Label: Young Money. Universal
After years of legal battles, public frustrations, and bickering with his label head and father figure, Lil' Wayne finally got to release the Carter V. The first song that we hear is easily the most impactful of the album. Wayne snagged one of the first posthumous features from XXX Tentacion and his vocals light up the record. Throughout the song, Lil’ Wayne sounds rejuvenated. It makes sense given that Don’t Cry was one of the last couple of songs recorded for the album. Hearing Lil’ Wayne rap about striving through all the troubles he has experienced and still being there as humbled as ever showed that he was fully engaged. He was focused and that’s the Wayne that we all appreciate.
48. Dave East & Styles P: Do You What Time It Is
Producer(s): Various Producers
Label: Def Jam
Dave East does his best Jadakiss impersonation and executes flawless in-and-out verses with Styles P on “Do You Know What Time It Is.” Throughout their collaborative project, Beloved, the two sound like they’ve been rapping together for years. The clearest example of their chemistry is through the back and forth on this record. The two describe what they did in their day, detailing every hour. All of it involves getting to the money, watching over their families, spending time in the juice bar, and smoking a whole lot of weed. The production is smooth off some 70's soul groove shit and the two sound at home on it. Great things happens when NY rappers stop talking about making NY music and actually just do it.
47. Wale: My Boy (freestyle) (feat. J. Cole)
Producer(s): J. Cole
Album: Free Lunch: EP
Label: Warner Bros.
My Boy is classic bar work from two of the best lyricists in the game. Neither Wale nor J. Cole miss a beat and hit hard hitting line after hard hitting line. The beat is fairly simple and allows plenty of room for Wale and J. Cole to flesh out their punches. Wale kicks things off and J. Cole ends it decisively. Wale hits on several poignant bars like, “these niggas ain’t gangster they be paying. "Extortion ain't dead it just moved to the county." Cole continued his streak of destroying everything he touches as if 2018 is the time of reckoning. He’s making sure that his spot amongst the elite is never denied again, which is ironic considering J. Cole does not come across like someone who cares about status. (He has repeatedly stated in interviews that those things don’t move him.) Lately, there’s been talk from Wale about retirement, because he feels like he’s not being appreciated enough. I hope he reconsiders that stance and remember that he’s still an important voice in rap.
46. Westside Gunn: Elizabeth
Producer(s): The Alchemist
Album: Supreme Blientele
Label: Griselda Records. Empire
The Griselda gang are like folk heroes for New York Hip-Hop. They keep the aesthetic of that sound consistent and the grittiness of their songs is a staple. Westside Gunn is the capo and is a beacon of that consistency. The best song on his Supreme Blientele album is Elizabeth which was laced by the legendary Alchemist. The song is beautiful and yet haunting. The trumpets that are looped gives the music a relaxing, Jazzy feel while Westside Gunn lays a grim outlook over it. The first verse gives a shout out to all those individuals who comprise the criminal underworld. “I know niggas that got two bodies and still a teenager, I know fiends that want to lick the rest of the razor….I know niggas that got 8 balls of pure yay, I know niggas that’ll rob your ass bare faced.” It's tough not to be entranced listening to the record.
45. T.I.: Wraith (feat. Yo Gotti)
Producer(s): Avedon & Scott Storch
Album: Dime Trap
Label: Grand Hustle. Epic
Wraith is vintage T.I. and in every one of his albums he gives us a cut like this. The song instrumental is so stupid, and T.I.’s low pitch slow flow complements the aggressiveness of the production perfectly. He sounds like he is tired of talking to and explaining himself to peasants. Yo Gotti follows suit and keeps it consistent with solid drug raps. It's bound to get you to bounce and blast it cursing down the street. Dime Trap left a lot to be desired, but this is a reminder that T.I. still can be as potent as we know him to be. Even Dave Chapelle can be heard cosigning at the end.
44. Swae Lee (Rae Sremurd): Hurt to Look
Producer(s): Fwdslxsh, E.Y & Bizness Boi
Album: Swaecation/ SR3MM
Label: Ear Drummer. Interscope
Rae Sremurd went out and did something incredibly ambitious in 2018 with the release of SR3MM. A 3-part album with 1 solo album from each Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi and a group album as well. It suffered from too many fillers as you’d expect but there were some gems there. Hurt to Look was one of them. Released as a single before the album came out, Hurt to Look is Swae Lee at his best. Crooning about love and pain from failed romance. What’s great about this record is that it’s all about disappointment with no hint of flash that Rae Sremurd is known to have. Swae Lee sings like someone who has been through way too much for his age until you check social media and think maybe he has been through a lot. (Swae Lee is involved in constant social media fodder involving girlfriends and side chicks) However you may feel about these young boys, Hurt to Look is an incredible song and deserves recognition.
43. Swizz Beatz: 25 Soldiers (feat. Young Thug)
I’m sure many may be able to pinpoint Young Thug releases that are more impactful than his solo track on Swizz Beat’s album Poison. The reason I put 25 Soldiers above all of them is for the simple fact that Young Thug is placed in an element that you’ll rarely hear him. AraabMuzik provides a stripped-down beat with simple but heavy kicks and Young Thug sticks to the basics. This is not the animated, unorthodox, distinctive delivery we know Thug for, but him simply kicking hot shit over a hard beat. This seemed to have been for the traditionalist that thinks that no technical skills exist for a rapper as dynamic as he is. It’s not a lot of dexterity on the verses, but some of the lines are clever and sharp. Bars like, “Dressin like Prince but gangster shit is what I live for” and “ ….Red Lobster ask Beyoncé where the crabs at, big bloody bang with 5 where Mcnabb at” shows that he did not come to play around. Shame on those that don’t appreciate this man but we’re happy Swizz Beatz did.
42. Anderson. Paak: Cheers (feat. Q-Tip)
Producer(s): Andre Brissett, Dr. Dre, Q-Tip & Focus…
Label: Aftermath. OBE. 12 Tone
Cheers is a sad song about losing loved ones and dealing with trauma over uplifting instrumentation. It's an interesting way to mask sobering lyrics of loss and regret. Some of the aspects of the song are what we’ve come to expect from Anderson.Paak but watching him vacillate between triumph and pain over the course of 2 verses is what makes Cheers the most interesting song on Oxnard. It's like audio survivor’s remorse. It tugs at your heart string when he wished that Mac Miller, who he was close with, was still with him. It also sounds as if he still has some issues of his own that he has not completely gotten over. Q Tip, who lost one of his closest friends in Phife Dawg, in which a lot of the verse sounds like a homage to him. It’s a beautiful song which will lift you up and bring you down at the same time.
41. Childish Gambino: This is America
Producer(s): Ludwig Göransson & Childish Gambino
Album: CG4 (unconfirmed Title)
Label: mcDJ. RCA
“This is America” took everyone by storm at the start of 2018. Everyone obsessed over the visuals and what they may have represented, piecing together sections of the video and opining on what it meant. Donald Glover or Childish Gambino (whichever you prefer) played it smart and made sure not to give the song any verified meaning. He simply stated it was up to the fan’s interpretation. In interviews for his promo tour of Solo: A Star Wars story, the media asked Glover to explain the meaning and he answered,"No. I feel it's not really my place to do that. I think it's just something that should be out there, you know. It's…. For the people…. I don’t want to give it any context. I feel like that’s not my place…” Glover understands that the moment you give this proper context, the speculation ends and the hype dies. The song is clearly referencing police brutality, America’s obsession with guns and violence, and what it means to be black amongst these things. The chorus juxtaposes melodic beautiful vocals with African chants and instrumentation while the verses switch to heavy 808 trap drum patterns. They both are married at the end of the record. Glover also has multiple people render adlibs in the background from Young Thug, 21 Savage, and Quavo to Blockboy JB, and Slim Jxmmi. It was really masterful and created a moment that 2018 will be remembered for.
40. Kali Uchis: After the Storm (feat. Tyler the Creator & Bootsy Collins)
Label: Virgin EMI Records
Keli Uchis’ Isolation is a myriad of feel good records and laid-back sounds. After the Storm is one of the best ones with great contribution and adlibs from Bootsy Collins and a solid verse from Tyler the Creator. The record feels like a quintessential summer record, perfect for a lovely beach day. There are also transitions with the record slowed down and taking a minor tone a welcome change of pace throughout. A fun record about overcoming tough times in a relationship by a dynamic artist.
39. Black Thought: Twofifteen
Producer(s): 9th Wonder
Album: Stream of Thought Vol 1.
Label: Human Re Sources
Who in their right mind would ever say no to Black Thought rapping over a great beat for over 3 and a half minutes. Black Thought got together with 9th Wonder for Stream of Thought and the first record is the legend at his best. Every bar is important, crucial and weighted. He paints pictures throughout with bars like, “ Me and my man twistin' up some reefer and wishin', We knew all the town hitmen in the likes of Sam Christian , On the edge of existence, man, listen ,Understand, respect and fear was the all-American ambition.” 9th Wonder lays the foundation with a beat that does very little to distract from the fact that you’re hearing one of the greatest on the mic in his full prowess.
38.A$AP Rocky: Praise The Lord (Da Shine) ft. Skepta
Label: Polo Ground & RCA Records
ASAP Rocky and Skepta made for a great pair on Praise the Lord (Da Shine). The song was produced by Skepta and had every bit of the London sound that I could imagine; although, the 808s and drum pattern help Americanize it. The hook is incredibly catchy and the simplistic flow pattern by the two makes the song very easy to bop to. Sometimes its better not to overthink things. Praise the Lord (Da Shine) is arguably the best solo moment that ASAP Rocky has had all year and it comes courtesy of the UK rap scene which is must maligned by US fans. This song shows how excellent that sound can be.
37.Reason: Colored Dreams/ Killers Pt. 2
Producer(s): Classic Beats
Album: There You Have It
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Gang culture is often destructive but in the West Coast it’s a way of life for too many. It affects nearly everyone in the vicinity of it and most west coast rappers are touched by it in some way. Reason, the newest signee of TDE, had one of the most painful yet insightful takes on it with Colored Dreams/Killer Pt. 2. One of the saddest interpolations of that lifestyle that you’ll hear, Reason raps from the perspective of a gang banger spending life in jail writing to those he cares about. All the stories end in grief and it's as somber as it gets. The execution is flawless and the mission of understand the level of destruction that ganbanging can bring sticks with you by the time you finish. It’s an incredible song that asks many of us, if the Colored Dreams are ever worth the means to an end.
36.Sheck Wes: Mo Bamba
Take A Daytrip. 16yrold
Label: Cactus Jack. GOOD Music. Interscope. Polydor
Mo Bamba by Sheck Wes is as rowdy ad rowdy gets. It's fun, it's destructive, it's hype, it's nod your head till it snaps music. Sheck Wes, hailing from Harlem and signed to Travis Scott and Kanye West’s respective imprints by way of Interscope, said that he recorded the song after feeling frustrations with labels and management in general. Not specifically aimed at anyone but he explained to genius.com that his phone kept ringing continuously that day and all the frustration that was in his head was building up. He was invited to the studio by 16yrold, worked on the song, and freestyled it in one take. He thought it would be funny to name his song after his friend and NBA player, Mo Bamba. The song went viral in 2018 when multiple videos surfaced of white kids losing their damn minds to it. One of the most famous of which is when these kids literally fell through the floor by jumping up and down so much. Every now and again you need a song that elicits that reaction and Mo Bamba holds the crown right now.
35.Royce da 5’9: Cocaine
Producer(s): DJ Khalil
Album: Book of Ryan
Label: Heaven Studios, eOne
I could not imagine how difficult it is for an artist to spill every personal detail about their lives on record for millions to hear. Even more difficult to imagine a private artist like Royce da 5’9 doing so. Cocaine is one of the most personal songs on an already very personal album, Book of Ryan. Cocaine finds Royce doing some melodizing and singing, which he rarely does. Although he’s not a vocalist, his voice works here, and you can feel the pain that comes from it. The song chronicles his experience with the drug, more specifically how his father’s addiction to it affected him. He describes his father asking him to keep it from his mother once Royce finds out, wonders aloud how that influences his own addiction with alcohol, even praises his father at the end to take steps to go to rehab. It's literally an emotional autopsy in a 3-minute song. Quite brave and wonderfully executed by one of the best lyricists of our time.
34. 6LACK- East Atlanta Love Letter (feat. Future)
Producer(s): Jakob Rabitsch
Album: East Atlanta Love Letter
Label: LVRN Records. Interscope
The title track from 6lack’s 2nd official release is the best record from the entire album. A record that plays as a double entendre to both 6lack and Future’s love for their city and the music that helped them escape. The production is melancholic almost as if they are talking to a part of their life that they haven’t been able to reconnect with. As if it's slow gripping away from them and as if they longed for the simpler times of being around the neighborhood despite all the pitfalls that exist. This all is blurted out through the lenses of romance and the two artists melodize for most of the record. Future turns in a brief but strong verse about coming from the mud and how he strived to get out. It’s a simple concept but it executed with soul and warmth. It sounds like Future was completely comfortable in 6lack’s realm of music which we hope signifies more collaborations between the two.
Producer(s): daedaePIVOT, Daoud and Saba.
Album: Care for Me
Label: Saba Pivot. LLC
Saba is on the rise and is an incredibly talented artist that deserves more recognition. Clear example of this is Life, a record on his critically acclaimed album Care for Me. Life is a very personal record dealing with family trauma, death, and a cynical view of the world. Saba tells a grim story about a family member doing many years in prison just to finally be released and die a year later. In parts he talks about how easy it is for the hopeless to remain hopeless yet other parts he raps about trying to find reassurance that he’ll be ok. Saba does all this with incredible dexterity and skill, often switching to a double time flow. Look out for this guy, he might be special.
32.Freddie Gibbs: Triple Threat
Producer(s): Eric "Enstrumentals" Sandoval, RichGains & Dupri
Label: ESGN. Empire
Triple Threat is a banger through and through. The beat knocks hard and the chorus that Gibbs lays is catchy for even the most casual of fans. It’s a shame that records get traction based on the name and the push behind it most of the time because this song should be playing at someone’s strip club. Freddie Gibbs spends the majority of Freddie bragging about his illicit activities and this record is not any different. He has a sneaky skill of using his gruff voice to melodize and this beat lends a perfect opportunity to do so with the contrast his voice provides in those moments. Trust me, play this in the whip and try not to break the speed limit.
31.Richard Russell: Show Love (feat. Syd the Kyd & Sampha)
Producer(s): Richard Russell
Album: Everything is Recorded
Label: XL Recordings
British dance super producer caught one on Show Love with two of the most unique voices in modern R&B and Soul. Syd the Kyd and Sampha sound so good together that it's damn near shocking that they have not done more music together. The production underneath is breezy and soothing. It’s a beautiful record about enjoying and loving those around you and appreciating every waking moment of the day. With Sampha’s distinctive voice and Syd's soft crooning offering a change of pace when it switches from one to the other, and when they melodize together towards the end, it's what magic sounds like. Don’t sleep on this hidden gem.
30. Currensy, Freddie Gibbs, & The Alchemist: Saturday Night Special
Producer(s): The Alchemist
Label: Jet Life. ESGN. ALC. Empire
The best decision made in 2018 is Currensy and Freddie Gibbs making sure that the Alchemist produced Fetti in its entirety. Saturday Night Special is why the Alchemist is so special. Do not get it wrong, Currensy and Freddie Gibbs deliver strong verses here, but the production is musical bliss. The Alchemist kept the sounds grounded which is right into Currensy and Gibbs comfort level and it feels like they were destined to lay bars over a beat like this. It has everything, trumpet solos, Freddie Gibbs telling a girl don’t call him unless it's for sex, Currensy speaking on remaining himself and never switching. It’s like every both MCs heard the beat and went to their happy place. We’re happy they took us along with them.
29. Migos: Stir Fry
Producer(s): Pharell Williams
Album: Culture II
Label: Capital. Motown. Quality Control
First off, anytime you can make a song about cooking up dope and end up Tasty making a stir fry ditch, how can you not be one of the top songs of the year? We’d like to forget because it came out so early in the year, but Stir Fry is a damn hot song. The legendary Pharell Williams cooks up a completely distinctive beat and the Migos tap dance all over it. The song is so catchy, and the stir fry metaphor is so accessible that the song was bound to be a monster hit. Beyond that, it is immaculate production over incredible flows. The video kicked the ante up even more with a martial arts themed video. I was convinced after this song that Migos was going to take over the world, and as we get ready to end the year, it's clear that they did.
28. Drake: Jaded
Label: Young Money. Cash Money. Republic
Jaded is a hilariously ironic song. Consider this, on Jaded, Drake finds himself complaining about being Jaded with romance. The entire song, Drake is lamenting about being kept at arm’s length by a woman who would like him to wait until she’s ready to commit. I REPEAT, DRAKE WHO HAS MADE A CAREER OUT OF TELLING WOMEN TO WAIT IS UPSET THAT WOMAN WANTS HIM TO WAIT. Outside the irony, Jaded is Drake in his bag. The music sets the tone beautifully and allows him to nestle in with the melancholic vocals. Ty Dolla Sign provides background vocals at key moments that takes the song to new levels. It was rumored that the woman that Drake was speaking to and yearning for was the one and only Jorja Smith. I’m sure there is very little substance to this rumor but either way, this man always manages to find a random muse.
27. Yuno: Fall In Love
Label: Sub Pop
I must admit that I don’t know much about Yuno or his work. The Jacksonville artist is hard to categorize. He put himself on the radar with the release of Moodie this year. Fall in Love is an incredible song and Yuno lays very soothing vocals on an entrancing music. It can be described as alternative or even EMO but it was too good to pass up on our list. The lyrics are sweet, simple and par for the course for a traditional love song but Yuno’s vocals are so distinct that it gives the record an unorthodox sound. Even as genres are less defined, this still stands as a unique song in such a soundscape.
26. G Herbo & Southside: Pac n Dre
Producer(s): TM88. Southside
Label: Machine Entertainment Group. Epic. Cinematic. 808 Mafia
Pac n Dre is trap gold. G Herbo, an OG of the Chicago Drill scene, linked up with his long time collaborator Southside to drop Swervo in 2018. As far as duos go, these two are money for 808 drunk Trap Music. Pac n Dre finds them both trading 2 bar sentences like Jadakiss and Styles P over one of the hardest beats you’ll hear this year. For as much as G Herbo gets criticized for losing his place on a beat (a critique that is mostly true), he caught it here and never let it go. Swervo lacks the emotional depth that we’ve come to appreciate from Herbo, but where it lacks in depth it makes up in relentlessness. There's not a moment to catch your breath and breathe and maybe that’s how trap music should be.
25. Vince Staples: Tweakin (feat. Kehlani & Buddy)
Producer(s): KillaGraham & Kenny Beats
Label: Def Jam
Tweakin’, the last song on Vince Staples’ latest release FM!, is one of the coldest on an album full of cold and detached lyrics. Most of the beats are high energy, but Tweakin is brooding and Staples’ direct style and demeanor is even more noticeable than usual. The most heartbreaking example of this is in the middle of the first verse when he raps, “When Jabari died, was off the porch for homicides, then when Halfi died, I bought some things to pass the guys, but when Johnny died, all I had was shows booked, down to burn in Hell, I don’t care how my soul look.” The lines are rapped with such a nonchalant demeanor that it's scary. Kehlani’s voice fit incredibly well with the dark beat and Buddy excels when laying small parts in the intro and outro. At the end of the day, it's hard to escape the stark reality of those words.
24. SOB x RBE: Paramedic (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Producer(s): Sounwave, CuBeatz & DJ Dahi
Album: Black Panther: The Album
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment. Aftermath. Interscope
Paramedic is so gritty, so Bay Area, so gangster, that when that beat drops you will literally lose your shit. The North California collective SOB x RBE waste no time ringing your neck with heavy hitting production and brazenly cold lyrics. It marries a party vibe with violent lyrics and Kendrick Lamar does not help with the simple hook. “I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would!!! I wish a bitch would! I wish a bitch would.” The highlight of the record is when member Da Boii kicks off the 3rd verse with some of the most convincing bars I’ve heard in a long time. As a matter of fact, the whole verse is a lesson in terror. “California nigga and I’m heavy in the streets, if you don’t keep a pole how you ready for some beef. Lil' nigga think he cut, yeah I bet the nigga freeze, If a nigga want me dead, I can't let that nigga breathe.” He spit those lines with such gruffness and so urgently, that you think he might be on his way to commit crimes right after. You need this in your life for that extra push at the gym.
23. Gucci Mane: Wake Up in The Sky (feat. Bruno Mars and Kodak Black)
Producer(s): Tarentino, DY Krazy, TrePounds & Bruno Mars
Album: Evil Genius
Gucci Mane is a Hip-Hop down south legend and now you can say he’s a certified hit maker as well. Wake Up in The Sky is the latest entry into that status. The song is so catchy, and Bruno Mars laid what might be one of the best hooks of the year. Gucci and Bruno Mars make an incredible pairing and Kodak Black raps one of his best verses (minus the odd notes he hits at the end of his verse). The beat is lush and smooth and you can’t help but feel like money when you hear, “the ladies love luxury that’s why they all fuck with me.” Wake Up in The Sky is not only great turn up music but also great “let me get in my bag before the turn up” music.
22. Swizz Beatz: Echo (feat. Nas)
Producer(s): DJ Scratch
Nas nearly left us off with pure disappointment the entire 2018. His Kanye produced album, Nasir was sub-par. This would not be the worst thing if we didn’t have to wait 6 years for a Nas album. Then Swizz Beatz tapped Nas on a middle cut for his studio album, Poison, and he burned the booth down. This is the Nas we love, and we champion. After Swizz Beatz reminds us that the legend we are about to hear is in fact a whole legend and kicked off the song with a verse that really feels like a DJ warming up the party, Nas jumps in and sounds rejuvenated. DJ Scratch samples The New Birth’s Echoes on My Mind and keeps it as stripped down as possible. All the makings of a great Nas verse are there. From him kicking off the verse with “throwing piss out the window at police chasing niggas with warrants” to a myriad of 80s and 90s references. This is Nas at home and a sweet reminder that we haven’t lost him yet. Just keep Kanye West as far away as possible.
21. The Weeknd: Call Out My Name
Producer(s): Frank Dukes
Album: My Dear Melancholy
Label: Republic. XO
The Weeknd had a relatively quiet year when you consider that he released My Dear Melancholy at the top of the year, and for at least a whole week we kept wondering who hurt him. Enter Call Out My Name, the opener to My Dear Melancholy which began the speculation that he was talking about his ex, Selena Gomez. Regardless of who it may be about, Call Out My Name is enthralling because The Weeknd has not sounded that hopeless since the Knowing on House of Balloon. It is unequivocally sad and sullen with not a hint of confidence that we’ve come to find in his music. The music is minimalistic yet powerful and underscores the weight of his pain. It comes across like an exorcism of despair and heartbreak. It seems the Weeknd was in a bad place when he wrote it. The good news is that he seems to be in a better place now (See for yourself: HERE) which is always a good thing to see. Call Out My Name is a hell of a time stamp though.
20. Tyler the Creator & ASAP Rocky: Potato Salad
Producer(s): Missy Elliott & Kanye West
We don't have any idea when to expect this joint project from Tyler the Creator and ASAP Rocky that has been teased for some time. If it sounds anything like Potato Salad, then we’re certainly in for a treat that hopefully has nothing to do with raisins (see what I did there?). Released as part of ASAP Rocky’s AWGE project (described as a creative agency founded by ASAP Rocky that comes with 3 DVD series including appearances from all of ASAP’s industry cohorts), Potato Salad finds Rocky and Tyler trading bars over Monica’s Knock Knock. Tyler destroys the entire song with some of the sharpest most technical rhyming. He wastes no lines at any point. He’s dexterous, his flows are expansive, and he has enough punches to satisfy Floyd Mayweather. If you didn’t think Tyler wasn’t a gifted lyricist, Potato Salad shows you how wrong you were. Rocky turns in a serviceable performance as well and compliments Tyler very well leaving high hopes for their project. A loosie track on an obscure DVD series turns out to be one of the best songs of the year.
19. Sir: D’Evils
Producer(s): D.K. The Punisher
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
It sucks that D’Evils by Sir does not get enough fan fare because it is so damn perfect. The second singer of note on TDE, Sir made an incredible impression with the excellent November released at the top of the year. D’Evils is the smooth weed smoking anthem that uses plenty of dance hall influences but it's rooted in neo-soul. The song samples Jamaican artist Billy Boyo’s One Spliff A Day in the chorus and as cliché as it appears to be, it is so damn good. Sir glides throughout with smooth vocals and puts your soul at ease. It really is a great smoking record. So, if you indulge, light one up and try it out. You won’t regret it. It's also great to see Sir pay homage by shooting the video in Jamaica and kicking it off with the original sample.
18. H.E.R. : Feel A Way
Producer(s): Bill Zimmerman, Flippa & Jeff Gitelman
Album: I Use to Know Her: The Preluce
Label: RCA Records
H.E.R. has a way of taking everyday situations revolving around a relationship and constructing amazing lyrics around them. Feel A Way, the 5th track on the first volume of her I Use to Know HER series, does that pretty well. The vocals are a given and it is so seasoned that it comes to be expected. The lyrics, however, are so pin point accurate. Feel A Way is about that stage when a relationship maybe coming to the end or going through its rough patches and every little becomes even bigger. The bridge crystallizes the feeling. “Oh I hate when you do that shit (oh), Now I'm bringing up the past shit (oh), Tell me I’m being irrational (know, know), I'm not dealing with you…” It’s a recognizable feeling for anyone that has been in that space, and it encapsulates the strife between two people not on the same page. H.E.R.’s talent truly knows no bounds.
17. Royce Da 5’9: Boblo Boat feat. J. Cole
Producer(s): 808 Ray, Cool & Dre
Album: The Book of Ryan
Label: Heaven Studios, eOne
There's nothing better than when two Rapper’s rappers get together yet don’t make a rappity rap song. Royce da 5’9 linking up with J. Cole was just that. The first single to Royce da 5’9’s The Book of Ryan, Boblo Boat gave us a glimpse into how personal the album would be. Royce kicked off the song with an incredibly heartfelt verse about his childhood and growing up going to the local amusement park. He raps about gaining some of his first experiences such as drinking not knowing that he’d eventually deal with bouts of alcoholism, spending time with his family, and losing his virginity. What is especially charming about his verse is the longing you can hear from wishing that his family was just as connected as they were during those times. “Boblo Boat” also marked the start of J. Cole killing every feature he touched in 2018. He picked up right after Royce sharing memories about getting his mom’s Honda Accord and trying to figure out how to impress women with it. He mixed those stories with some bragging about his skill-set. J. Cole directed the video as well which kept to the theme beautifully. Amazing execution from two gifted MCs.
16. Summer Walker: CPR
Album: Last Day of Summer
Label: LVRN Records
Summer Walker made a hell of a first impression with CPR. The song feels like a throwback R&B record with modern day vocals and crooning. It's beautifully produced and flows amazingly well together. You can imagine that comparing a partner's love to a lifesaving maneuver like CPR lends itself to some sweet, beautiful lyrics if executed well, and that is accomplished here. Truly one of the best pure R&B records of the year and a hell of an introduction for an artist that has a lot of potential.
15. Future: When I Think About It
Album: Beast Mode 2
Label: Freebandz. EPIC
It's so easy to forget that Future is such a talented artist because he involves himself in so much nonsense. From social media fights with the mothers of his children to his gross glorification of the drug epidemic on promos leading up to his release of Wrld on Drugs with Juiceworld. Beyond all the fuck shit, there’s a genius who is responsible for a major piece of modern Hip-Hop music. Future continued to prove this with the release of Beast Mode 2, the sequel to his classic Beast Mode tape. When I think About may not be the most important song on that record, but it is the smoothest and most fun. Zaytoven knows Future’s pocket like most and allows him to excel with the hazy, sing-rap auto-tune blues. Nobody does it like he does it and when we get past the headlines, its clear to see.
14. Freddie Gibbs: Diamonds 2 (feat. Cassie Jo Craig & Irie Jane Gibbs)
Producer(s): RichGains & Dupri
Label: ESGN. Empire
Freddie Gibbs is consistent, and his output remains so. There is solace in knowing that you will know what you will get from an artist no matter the circumstances. The highlight song of his unrelenting project Freddie, Diamonds 2 deserves an entry on this list because of that. It is brooding and straight to the point with soft vocals laid on the hook to provide a stark contrast. Freddie Gibbs, who I think is in the top tier of gangster rappers out today, lays brutal drug dealing references. It's mob music for those who still derive pleasure and escapism from it. There are still lines on there that are haunting though such as, “I just caught a body Luca Brasi he sleeps with the fishes. Fucked up part is when I go to sleep, I see this niggas image.” It doesn’t lend to warm feelings but it’s a banger nonetheless. Sometimes exploring new sounds is overrated. Sometimes it's better to know exactly what you’re in for.
13. The Internet: Look What You Started
Producer(s): The Internet
Album: Hive Mind
Look what you started has an undeniable groove and Syd the Kyd’s smooth vocals provide great contrast. Her vocals over the heavy kick throughout the song takes a hold of you. Syd portrays a hopeless frustration with a good for nothing lover. She sounds measured as if she has resigned to the fate long before the confrontation. “Know you got It coming babe, you took this shit from 0-100 babe. I hope you finally get it on your judgement day…” Those are the words of someone who has let the nonsense carry on for far too long. Look What You Started is one of the most infectious songs from a complete body of work. Although I’m certain that The Internet feel they’re right where they need to be, it’s a shame that the masses don’t get to consume their brilliance.
12. Nipsey Hussle: Grinding All My Life
Producer(s): Murda Beatz. Mike & Keys
Album: Victory Lap
Label: All Money In No Money Out. Atlantic Records
Grinding All My Life is an anthem from an album full of anthems. Nipsey Hussle is a master at making motivational music with motivational quotes but Grinding All My Life sticks to the basics. Gritty beat with sharp kicks and claps, a chorus that’s straight to the point that can serve as an ethos, and gritty lyrics to match. This is a trunk rattler of the highest order. This song is such a standout not because it's unique but because it's rabid execution. Who better to give you that dose of motivation other than a rapper whose entire persona is that of a self-made man who built it all through strategy and cunning. “Want a slice, got to pay the price.” True indeed.
11. Lil Baby & Gunna: Drip Too Hard
Album: Drip Harder
Label: YSL. Quality Control. Motown. Capitol
If you been to the strip club a couple of times in 2018, especially in the South, Drip Too Hard was like a soundtrack for you. Lil Baby & Gunna were coming off the most prolific year of their young careers and linked up to give us a certified banger. Turbo also pulls in his weight with the crisp 808 beat. It’s a masterful trap song and an example of how interesting trap music is when you look beyond the surface. Although Gunna is serviceable, Lil Baby steals the show which has been a similar theme for him throughout the year. In the year of the collaboration projects, very few sounded as natural as this one and Drip Too Hard is the crown jewel of that effort.
10. Mac Miller: Small Worlds
Producer(s): Carter Lang. Tae Beast
Label: REMember Music. Warner Bros.
Small Worlds underscores the late great Mac Miller’s talent as a writer. Over the mellow straightforward beat, Mac Miller waxes poetic about loneliness, success, patience, and just trying to be better. With all this perceived heavy subject matter he still gets to sneak in some slick lines like, “she say that I glow below the waste and the stroke is just so PGA.” Small Worlds is a highlight in an album so full of them mainly because Mac’s vocals and verses fit smoothly behind the breeziness of the instrumental. We also get contributions from John Mayer who played guitar on the song. Small Worlds is what a lazy day on the beach watching the sunset feels like. A feeling that you never want to end.
9. Travis Scott: Sicko Mode (feat. Drake)
Producer(s): Rogét Chahayed, Hit-Boy, OZ, Tay Keith & CuBeatz
Label: Cactus Jack. Epic. Grand Hustle
Truth be told, Sicko Mode is not a top 3 song on Astroworld, which is a testament to how great of an album Travis Scott puts out this year. Regardless of that fact, Sicko Mode is a tour de force and the impact alone merits its spot on this list. It's hard not to salute the inventiveness of this song. Sicko Mode is like a smorgasbord of beat switches, unorthodox instrumentation, and adlibs. From very subtle vocals of Swae Lee, screwed vocals from Texas Legend Big Hawk, to Drake kicking off the song with 4 quick bars over the most amazing organs you’ll hear. (I mean, THE ORGANS ARE GOTDAMN ELECTRIFYING) The beat switches at least 3 times (4 if you add the beat being screwed up at the end). There is no real hook throughout, and at first listen, you never really adjust to any part of the song. None of this should work yet it is one of the biggest records of the year. During the 3rd act, Tay Keith lays a thunderous beat and Drake goes off, with Travis providing incredible adlibs underneath. Never has taking half a Xanax and being “out like a light” on a long flight sounded so lit. It’s a brilliant composition and a look inside what makes Travis Scott great.
8. Pusha T: If You Know You Know
Producer(s): Kanye West
Label: GOOD Music. Def Jam
What a year for Pusha T. You can choose to be consumed by the Drake drama if you’d like, but you’re doing yourself a disservice not mentioning or acknowledging the music he’s released. If You Know You Know kicks off Daytona with a bang! Minimal percussion kicks off the song with dancehall inspired samples underneath and Pusha T kicks off the ethos of the whole album. “…Your numbers don’t add up on the blow that was 10 years ago, if you know you know.” Kanye West who produced the entire project was in rare form on If You Know You Know and the bars are premium drug dealer shit talk. Damn it feels good to be a D Boy.
7. The Internet: Hold On
Producer(s): The Internet
Album: Hive Mind
Hold On is over 6 minutes of pure sensuality and is damn near perfect. Syd glides all through the minimal production and delivers what is easily one of my favorite vocal performances of the year. It's difficult to convey sensuality effortlessly and she accomplishes that. Hold On is so vivid that it feels like the first time getting to know that person that you care about and helping guide each other through the experience. As Syd sings lyrics like “… I’ll show you what I know, you’ll give me what I need, not saying I’m a pro but you can learn from me” and the band lays down entrancing music behind it, there is no way to avoid being in your feels. What a perfect way to end easily one of the best projects of the entire year.
6. Jay Rock: OSOM (feat. J. Cole)
Producer(s): Pops & Crooklin
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment.
Paranoia is a strong emotion and songs about that emotion are always great when done right. OSOM (Out of Sight Out of Mind) lives up to the billing. Jay Rock and J. Cole trade verses about the challenges of being wary of the takers and those around you who are not there for the right reasons. There’s an inescapable feeling of dread that palpitates the song and that success is never truly enough. Jay Rock dedicates the first verse to his struggles adapting to success during his first run of success and the downfall that followed. J. Cole continues his prolific streak of incredible verses and touches of manic depression, suicide, infidelity all with the central theme of paranoia. The video is also excellent and keeps with the same themes. We hope to see more work from these two.
5. Travis Scott: Cant Say (feat. Don Toliver)
Producer(s): London Cyr, Frank Dukes & WondaGurl
Label: Cactus Jack. Epic. Grand Hustle
Astroworld was so excellent that if you ask people what their favorite song was, you might get completely different answers from who you ask. For my money, Can’t Say is the stand out of the record. It has every element of a great Travis Scott song. It's bouncy, the beat is expansive while remaining centered, the voice modulation is used perfectly. The distinction here is Don Toliver who is featured on the song. He spits a verse of a lifetime. The 24 year old hailing from Travis’ hometown of Houston, Texas made the best of his moment when he was up to bat. He glides through the beat from the moment you hear his voice and makes it his, switches flows several times, while still maintaining dexterity. I’ve heard very few verses I’ve enjoyed more. While Sicko Mode has the radio and the eyes of the masses, Can’t Say is the cut that will make you revisit Astroworld over and over again.
4. Nipsey Hussle: Double Up (feat. Belly & Dom Kennedy)
Producer(s): Teddy Walton. Axl Folie. IAMNOBODI. Rance
Album: Victory Lap
Label: All Money In No Money Out. Atlantic Records
Double Up plays so smooth that it's difficult to play it without hearing the entire 6 minute odyssey. Nipsey Hussle sticks to a theme that you know him for, hustling but in story form. The track title obviously refers to double your investment no matter the form and Nipsey dabbles in stories about his hustling days. “What you know about the dope game? Was you born in the 80s? Did ya momma smoke cocaine? Have you ever seen the whole thang? What you drove to the streets cuz you grew up on short change?" Those questions feel rhetorical as he knows you don’t understand these inner-city journeys like he does. Belly doesn't lay a verse but his contributions are even more important in singing the chorus and bridge beautifully. Dom Kennedy laces his verse reminding us why a lot of us became fans of his to begin with. Nipsey Hussle understood the appeal of this song as he gave a full dramatic story driven visual to match one of the most addictive cuts of the year.
3. Jay Rock: King’s Dead (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Future)
Producer(s): Mike Will Made It. Teddy Walton
Album: Black Panther: The Album / Redemption
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment. Aftermath. Interscope
King’s Dead feels like it came out 5 years ago because in some ways 2018 was a long ass year. Regardless, King’s Dead was one of the hottest songs throughout most of the year and for good reason. It's hard to hear the hook without wanting to repeat it, it's impossible to hear the beat without doing a shoulder shimmy, and the verses are entertaining as hell. Originally added to the Black Panther’s soundtrack, Jay Rock made sure to include it on his album Redemption as well. Why not? He did black out on his verse. Kendrick carries the hook and Future rapping “Laid Da Di Da , slob on me knob” is the most fun line to sing along to in 2018. We’re fortunate these gentlemen took this song and they freaked it!
2. Mac Miller: Self Care
Producer(s): DJ Dahi. ID Labs. Nostxlgic. Nice Rec
Label: REMember Music. Warner Bros.
It still hurts to think about losing Mac Miller so soon. It hurts even more knowing he never got to live with and perform songs like Self Care. Self Care serves as the template for his 2018 release of Swimming and also what I hoped to be a template for his life. Besides how beautiful the music and instrumental is the lyrics are well constructed. It’s a dilemma we all face. How do you prioritize caring for yourself despite all the challenges we face? It feels like Mac was making a promise to himself that regardless of all of his troubles and all of his struggles he was finally trying to learn how to treat himself right. The song transitions towards the 3 minute mark into an incredible beat where Mac switches from rapping to singing. Singing about finally removing himself from oblivion. Finally getting out of the daze. Finally ridding himself from the helplessness. It was inspiring and comforting when it was released. Self Care is still one of the most difficult songs to process in hindsight but it also stands as a clear indication of how awfully talented Miller truly was.
1. J. Cole: Friends (feat. kill Edward)
Producer(s): J. Cole
Label: Dreamville. Roc Nation. Interscope
Friends is easily one of the most important songs of the most recent years and a song that defines a generation. It might even personify more generations before it. Yet it still manages to feel like very few of us are taking heed. J. Cole set out on a mission to discuss self-medication and depression throughout his album KOD, and Friends is the clearest manifesto. He weaves in and out of the myriad reasons that we're seeing the glorification and proliferation of all the addictive vices that exist. How that can manifest into demons beyond your control. Watching the events of a somber year shows all the ways in which he’s right. He also weaves in his own experiences without sounding preachy and challenges his friends to find other ways to relieve their anxiety and the trauma that they have endured. It's heartfelt, thoughtful, and clearly comes from a real place from one of the smartest voices in mainstream music. Not only does he present the problem, but he provides solutions such as meditations. So many of us see ourselves and our friends in these lyrics. It’s a clear message that just because your vices do not have complete control over you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not destructive.